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A Brief History of Fascism in the United States

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"We could become the first country to go fascist through free elections." William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

German-American Bund Summer Camp, Long Island New York, 1938
German-American Bund Summer Camp, Long Island New York, 1938
(image by Holocaust History Museum)
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Generally we avoid using forms of the word "fascism" in polite company, and until recently, a person citing parallels between Nazi Germany and the current United States would invite elevated eyelids along with the outworn charge of sounding like a "conspiracy theorist". The current electoral cycle seems to be changing that, so I will trust that now is the right time to convey some ideas I've been marinating regarding fascism in my US Homeland. The ruling plutocrats are clearly ferrying the ship of State along that current, so if fascism is destined to be a part of our lives, perhaps we should quit pretending we can't see the ugly elephant in the room and somehow respond to it.

In discussing fascism as it exists in the United States, an accurate definition is in order. If we can see past lurid images of swastikas, jackboots, and death camps, we might realize that some elements of fascism, such as presumed racial and religious superiority, have existed in the US since its inception and are more pervasive than we have so far acknowledged. While the historical racism responsible for the US slave trade, the ongoing genocide of American aborigines, and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazism all reflect symptoms included in the fascist impulse, I am using the term "fascism" in its post-World War 2 context, which involves the rise of the Corporation as amoral tyrant.

While Italian dictator Benito Mussolini is often credited with defining fascism as the merger of corporate and state power, there is no evidence I can find that he actually said it. In the 1932 edition of Enciclopedia Italiana, Mussolini did write that "Fascism reaffirms the State as the true reality of the individual," which may be the heart of the matter, for it raises the ethical question: Are we, as human beings, subordinate to any "State"? It seems to me our traditional American value favoring individualism argues against it.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower addressed the influence of powerful corporations in his 1961 farewell speech, during which he warned of what he called the "military-industrial complex" although he didn't call it fascism:

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

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We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."

I'm glad Eisenhower said something although I note that he waited until he was leaving office to say it.

The Oxford Unabridged English Dictionary defines fascism as "a system of government characterized by rigid one-party dictatorship, forcible suppression of the opposition, the retention of private ownership of the means of production under centralized governmental control, belligerent nationalism and racism, glorification of war." The root of the word is the Latin "fascis", meaning a bundle or packet.

a fascis
a fascis
(image by Shawn Hamilton)
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The symbol's history is murky. It was perhaps first used by Etruscans--and later by ancient Romans--to symbolize power and authority. In a fascis, individual sticks combine into a stronger unit, an idea similar to "E Pluribus, Unum", a US national motto, which means "Out of Many, One". In that context we may understand why fasces appear on each side of the rostrum in the US House of Representatives:

Fasces (either side of flag) US House of Representatives
Fasces (either side of flag) US House of Representatives
(image by Shawn Hamilton)
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The Italian word "fascismo" stems from the same root and refers to "a political group, an organization, a club". In 1919 Mussolini instituted the Fascisti at Milan, intending to suppress "radical" groups" by which he meant socialists. Interestingly, Mussolini's father had been a socialist--he named his son after Benito Juarez, the leftist Mexican president. Benito Mussolini even wrote for socialist journals while he lived in Switzerland, but he apparently was kicked out of the party for supporting involvement in WWI, and he soon transmogrified into a committed Fascisti.

Hatred of "Communists" or "Socialists" appears to be a primary religious tenet of modern fascism although other groups can be included and interchanged in the category of despised others as we saw in Nazi Germany--homosexuals, dark-skinned people, immigrants, pacifists, radicals, Slavs, Jews, and gypsies as well as conscientious journalists, academics, and citizens of any background who opposed (or threatened) the absolute power of the State. People could qualify on one or several points, each making them targets of the Order. The Nazis called themselves Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or National Socialist German Workers' Party, a billing that exploited the popular socialist ideology to gain initial public acceptance rather than offering a sincere socialist platform. The Nazis were just one of many variations of fascist mentality, with its elitist and racist assumptions, that have manifested throughout history.

In 1933 when Hitler became chancellor, Deputy Fuhrer Rudolph Hess granted Heinz Spanknobel, who had entered the United States as a Christian minister, approval to create an American Nazi organization called the "Friends of New Germany". By 1936 this group had become known as the "German-American Bund", a US group devoted to advocating for Nazi Germany and Hitler.

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Shawn Hamilton is a reporter and teacher in California. He began his teaching career in Taiwan in 1989 when large rallies were supporting the protesters at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China.

He returned to the relative calm of the (more...)
 

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